West Coast ports reach labor agreement, cargo backlog will take trucks months to clear

Updated Feb 28, 2015

portWest Coast port employers and labor have finally reached a tentative agreement, and port truckers serving the 29 Pacific ports are asking terminal operators waive or reduce backlog related fees.

The Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union announced a proposed agreement on a five-year contract, but provided no details. “Our ports now can resume full operation,” the PMA and ILWU announced Feb. 20.

The organization representing port employers and the dockworkers must ratify the proposal, but it is uncertain when a vote will occur.

Jon Slangerup, Port of Long Beach’s chief executive, was among those crediting U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez and Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service Deputy Director Scot Beckenbaugh for playing key roles in negotiations.

“We know that the marine terminal operators, longshore workers, truckers, railroads and others will be extremely busy as they work to clear out the massive backlog of cargo at all of the West Coast ports, including Long Beach,” Slangerup said.

Meetings began in May on the contract affecting workers in 29 ports. Issues included labor jurisdiction, benefits, technology, but especially arbitration.

The PMA says the ILWU began a work slowdown last fall.

In response, the largest West Coast ports suspended nighttime vessel work shifts. This month, ship work assignments were suspended on weekends and holidays to avoid paying premium wages.

Oakland officials said while full productivity is being restored, truckers likely will face periodic traffic build-ups at terminals.

Cargo movement should improve soon in West Coast ports, but recovery from the backlog could take six to eight weeks.

Trucking companies will spend months clearing the cargo, said the Intermodal Conference of the California Trucking Association. Conference Executive Director Alex Cherin again asked terminal operators and steamship lines to reduce or waive charges related to backlog in the short term.

“Our trucking members have been significantly impacted by the events of the last few months and we respectfully call on the PMA members to work with us to ease the operational and financial burdens we face as we help the industry dig out from under this backlog,” Cherin said.

The conference of more than 200 carriers will make formal requests regarding the fees over the next two weeks.

On Feb. 6, it had asked the Intermodal Association of North America to intervene on behalf of truckers Feb. 6. The Harbor Trucking Association and the Intermodal Motor Carriers Conference of the American Trucking Association joined in that request.